At Sam’s Club, shoppers can scan QR codes to request help from an employee, who can then chat with the digital assistant “Ask Sam” to find specific product information. At H&M’s COS stores, smart mirrors can scan RFID tags on the clothes then suggest matching items or request different sizes/colors without the customer leaving the fitting room. At Sephora’s “store of the future” in Shanghai, an in-store tablet can scan a customer’s face to deliver ultra-personalized AI-generated recommendations for skincare and makeup.
This fusion of personalization, convenience, and experiential elements represents the new cutting-edge retail landscape, which blends online and in-store shopping into one experience that offers the best of both worlds. Retailers know it as “omnichannel retail,” a tech-driven shift that was emerging before the pandemic and has accelerated rapidly. Data from McKinsey shows omnichannel customers shop more and spend more than single-channel shoppers.
“Most of the brands that are doing well have brought both of these approaches together in a unified way,” says Simon Ogle, CEO at retail design agency iSi Global.
As consumers meander from shopping on their PCs to their smartphones to physical stores, they expect brands and retailers to keep pace.
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Stores as an experiential destination
During the early days of the pandemic, ecommerce grew to 19% of retail sales. By 2022, that’s dropped to 15%, which is still higher than pre-pandemic, according to the National Retail Federation. The takeaway for retailers: When customers shop in person, it’s for a reason.
“Customers shop online because it’s convenient,” says Bianca Cristescu, head of marketing at iSi Global. “They go to stores to have those memorable immersive experiences and connect in a genuine and authentic way with the brand.”
Last year in Berlin, iSi Global built HP Lighthouse, a retail space designed to show what stores of the future could look and feel like. HP devices and digital displays throughout the space educate consumers on its latest products. Other technology, like QR codes or NFC tags — both scannable labels that let people learn more about a product — gather data such as which items customers click on, informing business decisions on marketing strategy and personalization.